Challenging, lonely and "definitely the hardest rehab" she's endured, Mariah Williams has emerged from the darkest days of her international hockey career as one of the most valuable members of a Hockeyroos side gunning for a medal at next year's Tokyo Olympics.
And she's loving it.
The Parkes junior spent 18 months on the sideline with a debilitating pubic synthesis joint and abductor injury but made a triumphant return to the top flight over the opening rounds of the newly formed FIH Pro League, winning two player of the match awards in her first five games back on the big stage.
Through a mix of deft touches, speed and pure class, Williams has developed into one of coach Paul Gaudoin's best finishers and ahead of her return to Sydney this weekend the star forward is hoping to continue her glittering form in the green and gold in front of friends and family.
“Very excited," Williams said looking at the prospect of playing in NSW.
"I can’t remember the last time I played there with a lot of my local supporters there. It’s going to be very exciting, I can’t wait play USA there.”
The Hockeyroos take on the USA in a Sydney doubleheader next weekend, providing the headline act after the Kookaburras take on Spain earlier on the same day.
Williams is relishing playing in front of the big crowds the new pro league has already generated during rounds at Melbourne, Hobart and Perth and says a sell-out crowd on home soil, after what has been a struggle through the last year-and-a-half out of the game, would mean the world.
“I feel like I’m in a really good place at the moment, body wise, mentally, physically," the 23-year-old said.
"I’m feeling really good to be back out there with the girls and able to play. But that 18 months have been a big struggle. I love the game.
It was very lonely ... this was definitely the hardest rehab I’ve had to go through. Very challenging. I didn’t realise the pain it would cause after surgery.Mariah Williams on her recovery from abductor surgery.
"I know there’s a lot of people coming from Parkes and Newcastle to come watch."
With good reason, too.
Williams has had a wealth of support during her recovery and despite previously enduring rehab from four knee surgeries wasn't prepared for the pain of the abductor surgery.
“It was very lonely," she added.
"This was definitely the hardest rehab I’ve had to go through. Very challenging. I didn’t realise the pain it would cause after surgery.
"They had to cut through my abs. it was a very challenging rehab. Hopefully now I’m on the mend and on the uphill.”
The Australian women's side, one that also features Orange gun Edwina Bone, started the pro league in stunning fashion, ending a long drought against the Dutch with a 1-0 win.
But the Hockeyroos produced arguably their best victory of the tournament in their last start, a 3-0 shut-out of current Olympic champions Great Britain in Perth.
Williams banged home the hosts second goal in the win, thundering a bouncing ball past the British keeper in style.
After 18 months of injury hell, @Mariah1322 is dreaming of playing in front of family & friends in Sydney on Saturday 2 March vs USA! #FIHProLeague#WeAreComing— Hockeyroos (@Hockeyroos) February 21, 2019
Are you coming? Get your tickets here: https://t.co/8rODfkJExM@DestinationNSWpic.twitter.com/GinCOnjcAw
“Thankfully I got on to that ball against GB," the Parkes product said.
"It was bouncing. They’re pretty good to hit those ones. Thankfully it went in. I was stoked to get the goal, the way it went in was pretty exciting.”
The Hockeyroos will play USA from 5pm AEDT on Saturday, March 2, at the Sydney Olympic Park.